Federalism Committee reviews PILT payment study, ESG investing
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Legislature’s Federalism Committee met Thursday to review a pilot study on Idaho’s federal funding by payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT. An analysis commissioned by lawmakers found that federal lands in three counties would generate more than $16 million in property tax revenue, or nearly nine times what the federal government pays in PILT dollars.
Federalism Committee chair Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, arrived in-person at the statehouse, while the rest of the committee appeared virtually.
PILT payments are federal dollars provided to the state to offset areas of federal land that are not subject to local property taxes.
A presentation by Ryan Freeman of real estate and property taxing analysis company Aeon AI offered a report based on three Idaho counties’ potential to generate property taxes, had they not been classified as federal land.
Test counties included Boundary, Clearwater and Canyon counties. Freeman said they found “large disparity” in PILT payments.
Freeman told the committee that for the 1.3 million acres of federal lands in the three test counties, the state received $1.8 million in PILT money. The study found that had that land been deemed “recreational” and taxable, the counties could have generated more than $16 million in property tax revenue, or nearly nine times what the federal government pays in PILT dollars.
Legislators have long hoped to increase the amount of return the state gets on its 32 million acres of federal land.
The committee took no action on the report, but Dixon said he knew it would be a multi-state effort to see congressional policy change on PILT payments.
The committee also heard testimony on environmental, social and governance factors, known as ESG indicators in the business world. The passage of Senate Bill 1405 earlier this year prohibits public entities from considering ESG factors in a way that “could override the prudent investor rule.”
ESG indicators have nationally been a concern regarding issues such as company requirements to disclose their carbon emission rates, pollution rates or other environmental factors that could change an investment’s value.
Treasurer Julie Ellsworth said her fund managers have been in compliance and she will know more after the first quarter. She stressed that rate-of-return is to be the priority when looking at investments rather than what she called “pet projects.”
“We are looking out for shareholders, not stakeholders,” Ellsworth said. “You are the people with money, we are going to invest your money in a way that benefits you.”
Ellsworth said the legislation is benefitting Idaho and in October she plans to make the votes of representatives to shareholders public on her website.